With a Lily in Your Hand

Eric Whitacre

Featuring the translated poem by Frederico Garcia Lorca, “With a Lily in Your Hand” is one of the Three Flower Songs composed by Eric Whitacre. The first, “Go Lovely Rose,” was composed for conductor David Weiller while Whitacre attended the University of Las Vegas for his undergraduate degree. After the piece was premiered, he was approached by a publisher who encouraged him to expand the piece into a choral set. He set Emily Dickenson’s “I Hide Myself” and “With a Lily in Your Hand” to complete that set.

Lorca’s poem describes a lover in the night as the tamer of butterflies and stars. Whitacre takes the passionate text and sets it to music. He is inspired by the two elements of fire and water. In his own words, “If the performance of this piece connects these contrasting elemental ideas, its success is guaranteed.” You will hear fire in the faster, rhythmic sections and water in the legato lines of the sopranos. Whitacre intertwines both these forces of nature seamlessly throughout the piece.

Suite de Lorca

Einojuhani Rautavaara

Suite de Lorca also features the poetry of Frederico Garcia Lorca. For this suite, we will be performing the original language of the poet and would encourage you to follow along with the translations as Rautavaara uses the voices to bring each poem to life in a different way.

The first movement, “Canción de jinete” translates to the “song of the horseman.” You will hear the rhythmic galloping of the horse in the repeated lines of the men. While the soloists and women tell the story from the view of the horseman, the men chant of their destination, “Córdoba.” In the second movement, the women’s voices separate into a cluster to recreate “El Grito” or “The Scream” as the men respond to its ominous call. The third movement, “La luna asoma,” describes the rising of the moon and the tide. The sustained voices recreate the encroaching waves and exposes the soprano solo. The solo line translates to “No one eats oranges under the full moon. Better to eat fruit green and icy.” While the text may seem cryptic, the loneliness of Lorca’s text cuts through. The final movement features an ostinato in the baseline, repeating the phrase “Death enters and leaves the tavern.” The urgency of this final movement seems to create the feeling that there is no escape.

Nuit d’étoiles

Claude Debussy,

arr. by Alan Raines

Nuit d’etoiles (or Starry Night) was Debussy’s first ever published work. Written when he was 18 years old, it was a setting of a poem by Theodore de Banville, a 19th century French poet and writer. The original song was written as a solo piece, for soprano, accompanied by piano rolled chords meant to imitate the lyre mentioned in the first verse. This trio arrangement by Alan Raines manages to take the original melody of the aria and expands upon it, both through the use of close homophonic harmonies and triplet figures that are passed between the three voice parts.

Franz Biebl (1906-2001) was a composer born in Freudenberg, Bavaria (then Pursruck) and held several prominent music positions throughout his early life as a choir director, educator, and composer. After being drafted into the German military in 1943, Biebl was held as a prisoner of war at Fort Custer, Michigan. Once freed, he moved to the town of Furstenfeldbruck, where he directed the town’s choir.

Among the members of this choir was a fireman. It was common for companies, factories, police and fire departments to sponsor an employees' choir, which often would participate in choral competitions and festivals with other similar choirs. This fireman asked Biebl to compose something for his fireman's choir for such an occasion. The result was the Ave Maria (double male choir version).

The piece gained practically no attention in Germany for many years. However, when Biebl was the head of choral programs for the Bayerischen Rundfunk (Bavarian Radio) he made a habit of inviting American choirs to come to Munich and sing on the radio and with other German choirs. One of these choirs was introduced to his Ave Maria and brought it back to the US, where it became increasingly popular due to its addition to the standard repertoire of the group Chanticleer.

Ave Maria

Franz Biebl

Smile was first used as the theme song for the Charlie Chaplin film “Modern Times” in 1936. Chaplin composed the music himself, claiming melodic inspiration from Puccini’s Tosca. It did not officially become known as “Smile” until 1954 when Nat King Cole recorded the tune with added lyrics by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons. The song reached number 10 on the billboard charts and has been recorded by a number of artists since, including Sammy Davis Jr, Tony Bennett, Barbara Streisand, and Michael Jackson.


Charlie Chaplin, John Turner, Geoffrey Parsons

arr. Ben Bram

The Disney Fly Medley was arranged by Jamey Ray and recorded in 2016 by the choral group Voctave. The youtube video took the internet by storm with its delicious harmonies and soaring soprano lines. The piece features three songs, each from a classic Disney movie. The first tune you will hear is You Can Fly! From Peter Pan. It's text introduces the theme and the lively chorus comes back in between moments of Let’s Go Fly a Kite from Mary Poppins, and When I See an Elephant Fly from Dumbo. The arrangement features all the charm of the classic Disney sound. Originally recorded by 12 voices, at times this piece will feature each of our 11 voices on a different part. This one is for our sopranos! Hope they don’t fly away!

Disney Fly Medley

Sammy Cahn & Sammy Fain, Richard and Robert Sherman, Ned Washington & Oliver Wallace; arr. James Ray

Her Sacred Spirit Soars, by the acclaimed contemporary choral composer Eric Whitacre, was commissioned for the Heartland Festival, a summer theatre festival in Platteville, Wisconsin. Partnered with lyricist Tony Silvestri, the two were inspired by the Shakespearean festival once hosted by Heartland Festival and decided the poem for the piece should be a traditional fourteen line sonnet. Whitacre knew he wanted the piece to end with the phrase, “Long live fair Oriana,” in reference to the “Virgin Queen” Elizabeth I, but Silvestri took that suggestion and ran with it; not only does the poem end with that line, but the other lines create an acrostic poem, spelling “HAIL FAIL ORIANA.”

Her Sacred Spirit Soars

Eric Whitacre

Although Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) is best known for his virtuosic piano pieces, he wrote two unaccompanied choral works, the second of which, his “All-Night Vigil,” was one of his two favorite compositions. In fact, movement 5 was sung at his funeral in 1943. Even though Rachmaninoff did not attend the Russian Orthodox church much at all, he did base 10 of the 15 movements off of chant, as required by the Church in order to be considered liturgical. Perhaps influenced by his childhood when his grandmother took him to church after his father left, or perhaps influenced by his musical idol, Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s setting of the “All-Night Vigil,” Rachmaninoff determined to write his “All-Night Vigil” in 1915, ten years after “Bloody Sunday” when the Tsar fired on a group of clergy, and two years before the Russian Revolution after which religious music was condemned. It took him only a matter of two weeks to finish the composition.

Movement 4, “Svyetye Tikhi,” is based upon a Kiev chant from the 16th century, its text taken from the ancient Greek hymn sung after the service’s lamp lighting. It opens with a brief tenor solo, which is mirrored, then embellished upon by the upper voices. The basso profundo join in last, singing the chant lyrics on a pedal tone. The texture varies from a single clear voice to rich moving lines, at times in nine parts. The tenor solo returns in the middle with the upper voices as angelic accompaniment, before the tonality shifts and the basses join for the final climax and the voices’ final descent into quiet resolution.

All-Night Vigil: IV. Svyetye Tikhi

Sergei Rachmaninoff

Composing Hosanna (Psalm 118) marked the beginning of my appreciation for setting biblical Hebrew texts. The language of the Psalms in particular is innately poetic and musical, and is rich in human as well as spiritual depth. Its intimacy and honesty has evoked and indeed challenged human response throughout the last two and a half thousand years.

This particular adaptation of Psalm 118 was born out of a season of profound distress. I found myself crying out from the depths of depression through the text, and thereby became aware of the extent of my own crisis—its crippling nature along with its potential for learning unexpected compassion and strength. I began by setting only “Anna Adonai, hoshia na,” which translates as, “We beseech you, Lord, save us now!” (verse 25a). I composed this section in a day, and it was all that I could compose at the time. It was not until a year later that I could begin setting the rest of the text to music, declaring with the psalmist, “I shall not die, but I will live!” and “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!” 

Echoing the Psalm’s own call and response structure, Hosanna features a soloist or cantor in dialog with the choir. Musically, the piece comprises four main sections. It begins with the cantor urging the choir to give thanks to the Lord and acknowledge his faithfulness. The texture is contrapuntal, as the cantor calls upon various groups to respond. In the second section, the soloist and the choir join in a persistent homophonic texture, a unison plea to the Lord for salvation. The third section depicts the Lord’s answer:  the light of freshly created life, portrayed as a coalescing and ascending reality, evoking God’s first act in creation. In the final section the soloist and choir acknowledge the Lord’s most precious work, his consistent and faithful self-involvement in the salvation of humanity. Here praise and exaltation reprise the text and music of the opening section, with fresh emphasis on the Hebrew words hasdo (“his steadfast love”) and ki-l’olam (“unto forever”).

Tonight’s performance is dedicated to our friend Desmond Clark, whom we love and miss dearly. The premiere performance of this composition just three years ago, in August of 2016, featured Desmond as soloist.  He was an inspiring and talented vocalist, instrumentalist, and composer—and a dear friend of ours, and a key member of Ensoma Creative. On July 7, 2019, Desmond died unexpectedly at the young age of 33. We are deeply shaken by this great loss, as we continue to be enriched and blessed by the impact he has had on our lives. We are grateful to remember him tonight, and to celebrate his continual challenge to us, to live more beautifully and purposefully.

Hosanna (Psalm 118)

Townsend Losey

Elijah Rock is a traditional spiritual arranged by Moses Hogan. Hogan is internationally renowned for his spiritual compositions and his works are performed regularly by all types of choral ensembles.

Elijah Rock is a particularly interesting piece as it appears to combine two different biblical characters and stories. While the focus might be on Elijah and his ascending into heaven in the fiery chariot, the text also mentions Moses. After the upbeat theme has already taken off, the women have a haunting line saying “If I could I surely would stand on the rock where Moses stood.” The piece takes off again, building from a whisper to the eventual shout of “I’m comin’ up Lord.”

Elijah Rock

traditional spiritual, arr. by Moses Hogan

Danny Boy is a traditional Irish folk song that is believed by some to depict a parent singing to their son who is going off to battle. While the text was written by an British songwriter and made popular by an English singer, the tune is that of an old Irish air. 

This particular arrangement was written by Dr. Desmond Early. As one of Ireland’s foremost choral composers, he specializes in creating modern arrangements of traditional Irish music. He founded the Choral Scholars of the University College Dublin and is currently their Artistic Director.

Danny Boy

traditional, arr. by Desmond Earley